Monday, March 29, 2010

The Magic Pen

I would like to create a magic pen for every writer to help them understand the fine line between letting their story breathe and choking it to death. The pen would have a few special features:

Writers could flick it in quick, grandiose arcs to make the bad words fly off the page and dissipate into thin air, leaving only the good words behind.

The pen wouldn't allow them to write for at least a week...maybe two... following every feedback session.

The pen has a filter that allows a writer to absorb only questions which help them figure out their story.

The pen knows, instinctively, which people will provide feedback in a way that helps them grow as a writer.

But here's the thing...

Writers already have that pen. They just have to figure out how to use the darn thing while it's exploding huge ink splotches all over their faces. Because the fact is...those ink splotches and Lost Stories are what you need, or you will wrap yourself so tightly around your story it will suck in its last, gasping bit of air before you finish the first draft.

You have to give yourself permission to be messy. And fail. And take breaks. And say no. And listen.

So that your story can breathe.

What are you doing to help you figure out how to use your pen?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Lost Story

Seven years ago I sat between my kids' beds and told them a very sweet story. A story that held the soft tha-thump, tha-thump of a beating heart ready to fall asleep.

That bedtime story became a play which won a developmental opportunity at a theatre. For anyone not familiar with new play development, that means I had a director, actors, theatre space, two dramaturgs, elementary student feedback, and theatre professionals feedback while I wrote and rewrote feverishly for a week, working the play on its feet. All expenses paid.

But when I was finished, I hated my play. It a word...AWFUL.

Somewhere, in the middle of rewriting and advice and work and ideas, I lost my story.

Looking back now I can see multiple influences on my muck of a play, but the largest was a choice of my own. In my desire to perfect my play, I spent so much time listening to everyone else's feedback telling me how to do it I forgot to listen to my story. I twisted and turned it into something it was not and while, technically, it makes sense, the heart of the story is gone.

And here is a hard, honest truth: every writer loses one story. Maybe more.

They take in a comment, an idea, some advice...because conventional wisdom says that's what rewrites are about...and even though their instincts tell them not to listen, they ignore the warnings.

Don't think I'm not a rewrite person. I'm a ten-draft girl who works on computer and paper. I scribble and scrabble my ideas until I understand every choice each character makes. I read aloud and act out scenes. I try things on and take them off faster than clothes in a teen store dressing room.

I'm also a believer in holding the heart of your story close, because you are the one telling it.

I may never get my seven year old story back. I am extremely, rock in my stomach sad when I think about it.

But I still work on it. And when I do I go back to the beginning...because that's when it still had a beating heart.

What have you lost?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Are we there yet?

One of the hardest things about writing for writers at all stages is the discipline.

Yes, I said it. Discipline.

We are two year old children who want to play, play, play in the first draft, the sexy new idea stage, but when it comes to drafts two...four...ten...we stop listening to our stories, stare out the windows, and bemoan,

"Are we THERE yet?"

Well...I suppose that depends on where "there" is. If you mean that big final destination banner that says:

Then no.
You're not there.

And even if you are there and have something published, it all starts over with a new story.

If I learned anything as a ten year old on our extremely long drive from Nebraska to the keys in Florida, it was to celebrate along the way. After miles of hours with six people squished into an Oldsmobile, the games played out and too dark to see anything, we stopped.

Somewhere in Mississippi, standing alone by the road in the middle of the night, is a gas station that has the best strawberry soda. The BEST. Further along were boiled peanuts from a little stand run by people selling their special family recipe. And the beaches of Pensacola on Christmas day were as humbling and rewarding as any banner will ever be.

But I wouldn't have tasted those things if I wasn't looking out the window in the first place.

So discipline yourself. Draw out your first draft map so you have an idea where you're going and then swallow the steps along the way, like really great strawberry soda, because they are more important for your story and writing skills than any destination point.

Note: I will be attending the SCBWI Symposium in Bologna until strawberry soda reward:) More to come...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Today We're Not on the Bus

I've been inspired by Casey McCormick, the wonderful author of the Literary Rambles blog, to scribe about writers and their fears. Fears about not finishing a work. Fears about not being good enough. Fears about never getting published.

I used to have those fears.

WHAT??? What's this used to thing??? She's an UNPUBLISHED writer and she used to have fears???

But I don't. And I should explain...

We are a military family and we recently lived in Landstuhl, Germany. Landstuhl is a very small, tight knit community. It has some houses, a great library, a gas station, a church, and excellent sports fields for Saturday morning soccer and baseball games. It also has the offices and supporting units for the Army Hospital.

Every school morning for 1 1/2 years I drove my kids to the drop off circle, kissed cheeks, and said 'Have a good day!'

And every morning as I left the post I would meet one...or two...or three of the blue buses with giant red crosses and darkened windows carrying wounded soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq to the hospital. Sometimes the morning sunshine snaked through the darkened windows and reflected off the young men on cots wrapped in bandages, their IV bags swinging gently from the careful twists and turns by the driver.

And I drove away thinking, "Thank God. Today my husband is not on the bus."

So I's hard for me to be afraid of writing...afraid of not finishing... afraid if anybody will like my story...with so many REALLY big things that are much more deserving of fear.

I'm not saying I don't want to be published. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt when I receive another rejection. I'm not saying I won't work as hard to get past those things.

I'm not saying I don't mope around the house, pouting, flopping on the couch and burying my head like a two year old, when the rewrite I'm working on isn't going according to plan. My plan. The one that I get to pick because it's my life and...darn should be about me.

Because I do. And it does. And I will. And somedays...whoa I.

But I won't be afraid and let those things stop me in the meantime.

So I'm sending you off. Have a good day.

It's time for me to sit down and work on my story.

the best husband...EVER

My husband and I frequently have THAT conversation.

The one about what I will do in two years when the kids are a little older and daycare is no longer an issue. The one about my future earnings which will allow me to retire when I'm...85.

We were having that conversation for the ten thousandth time over lunch of pizza, wings, and Diet Coke.

"What do you want to do?" he asked.

I had to think about it. I want the financial security of a job with a steady income. I also want to be a writer. I am painfully aware that the second will not provide the first in any timely manner. The clock on that one is ticking louder than any biological clock created. EVER.

"I want to write," I choked out and washed down with Diet Coke fizz, fully prepared to lay out my plan on how to establish myself and supplement with teaching.

But I didn't have to. He looked at me and shrugged,

"Then do it."

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Tooth Fairy

My son lost two teeth today. Opposite sides of the mouth, one on top and one on the bottom. Even through the panic of the second tooth, which he believed should stay in his mouth...blood, spit and crackers floating around in a muck pool...huge, gloppy tears welling up to tell me what was wrong, he was thinking about...

The tooth fairy.

And how much he would score with TWO teeth under his pillow.

And I started thinking about rejection letters, especially since I recently received another one. All the email said was...

"Thank you for thinking of me, but I do not feel I am a good fit for this."

Letters like this, even though they are a no, are worth their weight in gold.

In one simple line the agent acknowledges reading your submission and that you aren't what they're looking for, which is really all a working writer needs to hear to set them on the path toward the right agent. Because sometimes, in the midst of unanswered queries and silent no's, a simple acknowledgement is enough to keep you motivated to send out your work.

It's a tooth under the pillow.

And it makes me excited for the future. For the day when I work through some of the muck pool and I score with two teeth under the pillow.